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The oxygen that breathes life into peacemaking


The oxygen that breathes life into peacemakingThere is a fair amount of fuzziness about where the line of demarcation between church and state lies.

This separation is a principle I firmly believe in, while also believing that someone's personal values should and do inform one's day to day thought processes and decision-making. But there is way too much selective following of the rule nowadays by this government. It invokes the authority and wisdom and so-called legitimate involvement of the church in politics and policy-making when that involvement is pro-government policy.

The Howard Government directly uses various congregations and speeches to promote government policies. But when the church points out the human rights and humanitarian values "shortcomings" and "failures" of the government—for example, in relation to refugee policy—then the church is loudly deemed to have no place in such discussions. It is told, often not so politely, to go away quietly.

What is "Christian" about the treatment of David Hicks? What is "Christian" about the treatment of asylum-seekers? What is "Christian" about believing that sleep deprivation and other harsh treatment of arrestees is not torture?

The spectre of the West being involved in or effecting the use of torture, the forceful removal of suspected terrorists to countries not connected with the war to enable interrogation outside the legal systems of Western countries, and the imprisonment of alleged terrorists without proper legal process are troubling many lawyers, church leaders and members of the public.

So what should our response be in these circumstances?

The oxygen that breathes life into peacemakingOther than the formal interaction between nations through the United Nations and the Security Council, the range of approaches includes initiatives both through the UN and its agencies and other international organisations, and at the personal level inter-faith dialogue between religious groups, citizen-to-citizen exchanges to increase understanding.

There is a host of options and actions that can bear fruit. And here the role of non-government organisations (NGOs) who provide the heavy lifting in aid relief and community building in war-torn regions is critical.

It is undeniable that organisations like Caritas, World Vision, the Red Cross and a host of others bring expertise and compassion to bear in troubled parts of the globe. Their work, including their advocacy for the poor and those caught in the crossfire of violence, is of enormous value.

Standing up for peace, reconciliation and healing where peace has been absent, often means working with communities through long days and nights, as for example Australian Catholic nuns did, and still do, for the people of Timor-Leste during their darkest hours and as they continue the difficult task of rebuilding their nation.

AThe oxygen that breathes life into peacemakingt all times the exercise of citizen's voices both here and overseas, and the involvement they have with the political processes of their country, is the oxygen that breathes life into peacemaking.

My reading of Jesus' call to turn the other cheek, is that not only is it a clear rebuttal of the literality of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but it is also a practical insight into how arguments that justify the use of violence on the grounds that violence has already occurred can be countered.

The "just war" principle evolved to address the question of what happens when there is a greater evil that will be committed if violence is not countered. Christian doctrine is not comfortably numb to the scenario of unmitigated, unlawful aggression. Even Gandhi, the champion of non-violence, demurred that sometimes violent resistance to evil was better than no resistance at all. And Bonhoeffer, the great Christian pacifist my colleague Kevin Rudd wrote about recently, joined the plot to assassinate Hitler.

We now come to a new crossroads, for the exercise of the war in Iraq has meant that the principles that govern just war-making have been thrown over. And the Christian response should be to challenge this reversal of principle and practice.

In the meantime, the existing "just war" framework can serve as a basis to develop new peacemaking actions where justice and commitment to the poor is central.

The oxygen that breathes life into peacemakingAnd here what better example than the worldwide "Make Poverty History Campaign", which originated out of the movement for Jubilee Debt Relief and others, and involved numerous young people, including many Christians, and which resulted in the UN adoption of the Millennium Development Goals.

The rule-breaking that defines Christ's mission as recorded in the gospels is the ushering in of an age where peace is pre-eminent, not one where war is justified. We shouldn't lose sight of this mission as we contemplate peacemaking in the new century.

This is an edited excerpt from a speech delivered on 18 October at the St Thomas More Forum at Campbell in Canberra. The full text is available here.



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Existing comments

It is without doubt incumbent upon churches to speak up against injustice and moral wrongs.Given the relative toothlessness of federal Labor in this country, this is even more so the case. When will the Labor party re-learn that it has to stand up and be counted, not just parrott a similar position to the government.

Piers Johansen | 31 October 2006  

How refreshing to read something from a politician that makes absolute sense. I long for the day when Peter Garrett will be elected to be the leader of our nation.

Rodney E Lever | 02 November 2006  

This is an excellent statement. He is so right. No christian, who calss him or herself that, could be supporting torture or as it is called, rendition.

Theo Dopheide | 09 November 2006  

Wonderful speech, wherein Garrett brilliantly articles not only how the "Christian Voice" in politics has been hijacked by the Right, but also a wonderful affirmation that to truly achieve peace, we must first seek justice.

Neil De Cruz | 09 November 2006  

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